So, tell me, why do you want to get into children’s publishing?

This was the question that was asked of me at my first internship about a year ago. Feeling a little put on the spot, I gave the horribly cringe-worthy response that, given my lack of experience, it seemed like it would be “easier” to work on children’s books in an editorial capacity than it would to work on adults’ books.  The truth is I wasn’t entirely sure which direction I wanted to take at that point and I had only just re-entered the world of children’s fiction after a decade’s hiatus (give or take), so I wasn’t really qualified to comment on their relative “easiness”. Now, a year on, having read a few more children’s books and coming to the end of my internship at Hot Key, I feel like the time is ripe to re-examine my feelings about children’s fiction and reasons for wanting to pursue a career in children’s publishing via the almighty forum for online discussion that is… the blog.

Perhaps the most significant thing I’ve discovered is how innovative children’s books often are. To illustrate by example, of the books I have read recently, one featured a teenage girl with a blood condition with potentially global ramifications (The Truth about Celia Frost by Paula Rawsthorne), another posed the argument “What if God was a horny teenage boy?” (There is No Dog by Meg Rosoff), and, finally, the most recent involved a young boy’s ability to shrink planets that throws the entire solar system into turmoil (an upcoming Hot Key title, the “50% fun” SHRUNK! by F.R. Hitchcock).

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I believe this innovation is due to the fact that children’s books are less tethered to the need for realism, given that children are simply not the harsh critics adults are (this isn’t to suggest that realism is completely disregarded; I strongly believe that a story will only be engaging if the protagonist has a kernel of truth in their makeup, is relatable in some way) and so there is the opportunity for wildly imaginative stories. In this sense, if pure escapism is what you’re after, I feel that children’s books are hard to beat!

Another thing I’ve discovered is that there is an appealing levity or sense of fun underlying  children’s fiction which keeps those pages turning. Adult fiction, on the other hand, with its meditations on mortality, explorations of the darker side of human nature and literary pretensions, has the potential to become tiresome. That isn’t to say that serious subjects aren’t grappled with in children’s books (they often deal with divorce, emotionally detached parents and, towards the young adults’ end of the spectrum, sex and death), but they never bog the story down.

One final thing I’ve discovered is that a good children’s book never preaches values to its audience. To the contrary, children’s books often celebrate the fact that children will be mischievous; it is simply part of the joy of being young (See the Penny Dreadful series by Joanna Nadin, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole by Sue Townshend, Spud by John van de Ruit).

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In this way children’s books leave the task of instilling values in children to the realms of parenting and school education and instead focus on telling a gripping story.

Since I began doing internships at children’s publishers I’ve encountered quite a few adults who read children’s fiction not only frequently but exclusively, and, for the reasons I’ve set out above, it’s very easy to see the appeal. Perhaps the phrase “children’s fiction” is too restrictive a tag (suggestions anyone?).

So as my internship at Hot Key draws to a close, I now return to the original question. Why do I want to work in children’s publishing? Well, it’s the opportunity to read a wide range of imaginative submissions from authors. It’s the fact that it gives you a front-row seat in terms of all the exciting new releases in the world of children’s publishing. It’s the wonderfully varied tasks that are performed from day to day (during my stint at Hot Key I spent a good couple of hours gluing miniature covers onto miniature books, which, for the record, was quite therapeutic, really).

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It’s the fact that there’s an infinite supply of chocolate by the kitchen sink. And, finally, it’s the prospect of working alongside people whose passion for their jobs, in my experience, is unmatched.

Now it’s your turn, Hot Key blog visitors – tell me, what do you love about children’s books?

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13 responses to “So, tell me, why do you want to get into children’s publishing?

  1. I love so many things about children’s books. One strong example, the fact that there is an excuse to make miniature books! But also the people involved. Like you’ve said in your blog, people who work in children’s books are just so passionate and creative and driven to get young people reading. It’s awesome. The only place I want to be.

  2. And, also, thanks so much for all your help over these two weeks, Josh. You’ve been brilliant! And I’ll keep you posted about that book that you loved… hope we get it!

    • No problem at all – I had a really great time!! And, yes, please do let me know what happens with that book. It’s a winner, that one!

  3. I love reading teen books and have just started writing teen books because I believe, just as you said, that there is nothing holding me back. I love that I can let my imagination fly and yet even though I am writing for under 18s I am not restricted by anything (maybe erotic… but I don’t want to write that anyway!) I mean Hunger Games is just as disturbing as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Teenagers see the world differently, in some ways more harshly, they see where everything can go wrong, and they are full of emotion… it makes great writing and reading!

  4. Great post Josh! I have always thought actually that we have to work a lot HARDER publishing kids books than publishing for adults. For one, we’re not children! So, we have to think harder about each book, and who it’s aimed for, and what other things they’re in to. We have think carefully about how to make reading interesting, and fight for attention between xbox’s and games and other more ‘fun’ forms of entertainment!

    But the other thing I love about it is once you hook in a child/teenager into a certain author or series, you see how amazingly inventive and passionate they can be about what they read, and when you get them involved, they can sometime give you the best ideas about how to promote something. It’s a great field to be in!

  5. And working with children’s books is so much fun! Children’s books are never a boring place to be. Brilliant post Josh.

  6. Hi Josh, (hi team at Hotkey), love those miniature books.
    When you were looking for those internships (“Since I began doing internships at children’s publishers…”) where were you? Were you at College in the middle of a course or just finishing one?

    I ask because I have just started publishing books for young children and I wish to build up a team alongside me to run, grow and own the publishing house. To do this, I need to find those who eat, sleep and dream ‘Children’s Publishing’. Would you have any ideas about where such people hang out?

    Obviously, if anyone in the Hotkey Team has some ideas on this, I would be over-the-moon to hear from you.

    All best

    Grant

    • Hi Grant. I met Josh through a friend who also works in publishing, and he approached me for an internship. He has a full time job, but was inetersted in making a switch and came in to test things out.
      We get a rolling program of interns at Hot Key just by saying that we take interns on. We make sure to follow EU regulation, and always make sure they are getting something out of the experience – which mans that they then talk about the opportunity to their friends, etc. If you post something on your website, people will find you!
      Twitter is a great place to find people who dream children’s publishing. We are all talking to each other all the time.
      Congratulations on starting a publishing house – and children’s books is by far the best type of publishing. Good luck!

      • Hi Sara. Thank you for background info. and thank you very much for your thoughts. I shall get tweeting and blogging about our Intern positions straight away. So far, we have had ‘Artist in Residence’ positions filled on two occasions but not asked for help from editorial and design interns. We offered full board and accomodation in exchange for their help. Their wonderful work went straight into a couple of our children’s books. One has now launched her own T-shirt design Co. and the other is back in Australia running an art and therapy centre. It’s a delightfully small world and I think that one of the best things about interns is their ability to create bridges between publishing companies as they grow their career path. Best wishes to all at Hotkey from Little People Books.

  7. Yes, working with interns is fantastic. In fact, our very first intern here at Hot Key now works for us!!

  8. I hope to be able to say a similar thing maybe as soon as next year. Have a fine seasonal time (every season)

    Grant

  9. Update
    Our first two interns from Germany arrive Mid May. Plenty to do and loads of valuable experience for all, including the hosts!

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